Local News

Will Bob Etheridge's confrontation damage his re-election campaign?

Posted June 15, 2010 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2010 12:08 a.m. EDT

— U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge apologized Monday for a confrontation caught on camera in which he grabbed a man filming him on a Washington, D.C. sidewalk – but will it cost him at the polls?

The Democratic lawmaker, who represents North Carolina's 2nd District, was expected to cruise to victory this year. But some say the video of the seven-term congressman’s confrontation makes the race more competitive.

Renee Ellmers, a Republican who is running against Etheridge, was quick to respond to the criticism surrounding Etheridge.

"Coming out and saying that this was just a poor response is really just hitting it just barely," she said Monday.

Ellmers’ campaign crafted an Internet ad within 24 hours of the release of the viral video, which was posted Monday on websites owned by Andrew Breitbart, a conservative Web entrepreneur.

The video shows Etheridge walking down a street toward two young men with cameras. One man says, "Hi, Congressman. How are you? Do you fully support the Obama agenda?"

Etheridge then asks, "Who are you?" multiple times as he pushes the camera away and grabs the young man's wrist.

"Tell me who you are," Etheridge continues as the other man with a camera replies, "We're just here for a project, sir."

The young men tell the congressman they are students but don't identity themselves further. One of the men then asks Etheridge, "Would you please let go of my hand?"

Etheridge eventually lets go of his wrist and grabs the man around the neck and then the shoulder as the other cameraman yells, "Sir! Sir! Sir! Please!" Etheridge eventually walks away.

Ellmers’ consultant Carter Wrenn said Tuesday that Ellmers is getting an influx of money and name recognition from the Etheridge video.

“It turns this race into one of the most competitive races in the country,” he said.

Wrenn said the Etheridge video changed the race overnight.

“The world moves quickly on the Internet today,” he said. “A moment like this comes and fractures all those political myths.”

Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said he thinks Etheridge can recover from the incident.

“The worst wounds in politics are the self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “I think people will see that was a moment of impatience and anger that was not characteristic.”

Etheridge issued an apologized Monday for the confrontation.

"I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction, and I apologize to all involved," Etheridge, who represents Chatham, Cumberland, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Nash, Sampson, Vance and Wake counties, said in a statement. "Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect."

Nevertheless, bad press can be costly. Etheridge benefited during a 1996 race when incumbent Republican David Funderburk mislead state troopers about a traffic accident. Virginia Sen. George Allen lost re-election in 2006 after using a perceived racial slur to identify a worker for his opponent.

How Etheridge’s incident will affect the upcoming race remains to be seen. In the meantime, Republicans are calling on Etheridge to offer more explanation about why he reacted so angrily. Democrats are pushing to find out more about the questioners and their motivation. So far, they remain anonymous.

“This is the way politics is going to be from now on,” Pearce said.